[Panel 1:]A Canal to the West
For years it was a dream - a canal to open a trade route from local commercial centers to the rich Ohio country across the Allegheny Mountains. Business would thrive as mule-drawn barges carried wheat, furs, whiskey, livestock, and coal to bustling ports at Georgetown, Washington City, and Alexandria, providing a cheap alternative to overload wagon roads.
Begun July 4, 1828, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was dug around dangerous Potomac rapids, through forests, mountains, and remote valleys, European canal engineering was copied when possible; new methods were developed when necessary.
But as the canal inched westward year after year, high construction costs, engineering problems and fatal epidemics among the workers plagued the project and the dream faded. By 1850, after 22 years of effort, the canal had reached only to Cumberland, Maryland, and the Allegheny Front mountains—185 miles from Georgetown, but only half-way to the Ohio River.
Construction stopped for good at Cumberland and the Canal Company simply struggled to survive. Major floods had crippled the waterway every decade or two and heavy damage by spring floods in 1924 finally ended commercial operations.
[Panel 2:]Tide Lock
The Potomac River and nearby Rock Creek meet quietly here at Tide Lock.
Years ago, canal boats locked into Rock Creek from the C&O Canal about a half-mile upstream and then through Tide Lock into the bustling world of the Potomac waterfront. Coal, building stones, and other cargo were unloaded at busy wharves or transferred to schooners and steamships. A skirting canal along the river bank led to the Washington City Canal which followed what is now Constitution Avenue to wharves on the Anacostia River.
Though few signs remain of its heyday, the Georgetown riverfront once livened to the shouts of sailors, canallers, longshoremen, and the impatient braying of canal mules tethered near the present-day Thompson's boat house.